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Pete Smith

March 12, 2011

According to the Gods: a 2011 Team-By-Team Preview

Atlanta Braves

Pete Smith was a lifetime .118 hitter with a .174 on-base percentage and a .147 slugging percentage. He didn’t hit a single home run or steal a single base in his major league career, but he did manage to get down 38 sacrifice bunts. Statisticians don’t keep track of failed attempts to bunt, at least that I know of, so Pete Smith’s 38 sacrifice bunts remain impossible to use as a gauge of Pete Smith’s skill as a bunter. For all we know, all 246 outs Pete Smith made in the big leagues could have been the result of failed bunt attempts. But, that said, he seems to be showing decent form and concentration here, I guess, so maybe he knew what he was doing. One thing that seems clear is that all the bunting didn’t end up helping him or his team very often. At the time of this 1991 card, which appeared midway through Pete Smith’s 11-year career, Smith’s win-loss record stood at 18-37. In his defense, he had been toiling for a moribund Braves club in his first years in the majors, but the abrupt reversal of fortune the team was about to experience didn’t really help Pete Smith turn things around. Besides one brief moment in the sun during the Braves’ second pennant-winning year in a row in 1992, when Pete Smith went 7-0 while splitting time between the majors and minors, Smith continued losing at about the same rate in the second half of his career as he’d done in the first half, going 19-34 from the time of this card until his last appearance in 1998. His spotty performances in the majors kept getting him sent back to the minors, where he managed to fashion a career win-loss record that finally, in 1997, after appearances of varying length in 167 minor league contests, edged just barely above .500. He spent the following year entirely in the majors, but it proved to be his last year at that top level of his profession, and in 1999 he bounced from Triple A Memphis to Triple A Las Vegas, going 2-3 and 4-5, respectively, marks that pushed his minor league win-loss record, which had been one game over .500 going into the season, to 55-56. God damn it. And that year some of his former teammates were still playing for the Braves, who swaggered to their eighth division title and fifth pennant of the decade. So I’m going to go ahead and say that Pete Smith succeeded in the attempt shown on this card to get a fucking bunt down, and it helped lead to a run, and the run proved to be crucial, giving the Braves the lead, and Pete Smith then protected the lead, and afterward in the locker room he basked in the glow of a job well done and that rare sweet feeling of a win.

As for the 2011 Braves, who on the strength of last year’s playoff team seem to perhaps be in the midst of getting back to their winning ways, I’m going to have to say that a Pete Smith card is probably not a sign that the breaks will be falling their way this year.

***

How to enjoy the 2011 baseball season, part 13 of 30: spend some time with the greatest Brave of them all, Henry Aaron, in Howard Bryant’s recent Casey Award-winning biography, The Last Hero  

***

2011 previews so far: St. Louis Cardinals; New York Mets; Philadelphia Phillies; Washington Nationals; Pittsburgh Pirates; Arizona Diamondbacks; Colorado Rockies; New York Yankees; Cleveland Indians; Detroit Tigers; Milwaukee Brewers; Minnesota Twins

5 comments

  1. The selection of a 1991 Fleer card is at least as ominous as the player depicted. Those cards are an affront. An affront!


  2. Ah, Pete… the forgotten 5th Ace in the Atlanta deck from that period (Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz, Avery), though it was clear even then that his association with the other four was strictly coincidental to coming up the Braves pipeline with Glavine and Smoltzie in the late 80s. If I recall, Derek Lilliquist was the other pitcher the team was fond of, though looking back on Lilliquist’s numbers, it seems that the team and/or I hallucinated that enthusiasm. Maybe it was Kent Mercker, instead…? Ugh, the failure of memory is almost as bad as the failure of hype.

    Anyhow, Pete. Pete! A pasty residue of the era right before The Dynasty, when any notion of a dynasty, capitalized or not, was far from inevitable. Those teams were just hamburger for the grinder that was the rest of the National League, and Pete took the ball every fifth day like a good little meatball. I lived in Oregon and watched most every Braves game via WTBS, which meant that they started around 430p on PST. Perfect white noise for a post-class nap; even with Pete’s bunting prowess, there wasn’t too much to disturb anyone’s rest in those broadcasts. I do wish I had listened more closely to Skip Caray and Ernie Johnson Sr, though. The parts of their stand-up routine I did not sleep through were always hilarious.


  3. “The selection of a 1991 Fleer card is at least as ominous as the player depicted. Those cards are an affront. An affront!”– Ha ha!

    Smith and Glavine each grew up about ten miles from me (in different directions) and as such, I had an interest in how each of them would do in the big leagues, and by extension, how the Braves would do. They were both pegged to be stars, as I recall, with Smith being the better bet because he threw harder. They didn’t quite end up at the same place, obviously, but I always linked them in my mind.


  4. That’s twice now! First, you recommended reading A Visit from the Goon Squad (which I had already done), and now you are recommending reading Howard Bryant’s book (which is now on my nightstand awaiting my impulse to begin reading a book that size…).

    Weird. Too bad there is no MLB team from North Carolina, or you’d be recommending Monique Truong’s Bitter in the Mouth (the most recent book I’ve read).


  5. Great way to get to know Pete Smith is by reading “Pure Baseball” by Keith Hernandez. He details an entire game pitch-by-pitch between Atlanta and Philadelphia. Pete Smith pitched for the visting Braves vs. Danny Jackson for the Phillies. Even though I always wished Mex had chosen a Maddux start, it’s a really good baseball book.



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